Berlin · More and more people have been vaccinated twice in Germany. Now it's become clear that those who are fully vaccinated and those who have recovered will face fewer restrictions. Despite falling corona numbers, however, the federal government and experts are warning against opening things up too quickly.
For millions of people who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus or have recovered from the illness, many restrictions will no longer apply.
As of Friday, both houses of German parliament approved an ordinance that lifts basic rights restrictions for these two groups. "This is a very important step towards more normality," said Federal Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD). "The ordinance can now come into force on Sunday." Even though the infection rate is falling, German Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) warned against carelessness and opening up too quickly.
Lambrecht explained that fully vaccinated and recovered people will no longer need a negative test when shopping or going to the hairdresser. They will be able to meet in private without contact restrictions and current curfews no longer apply to them. Quarantine can now only be ordered in exceptional cases. "If the infection rates continue to fall, further steps will follow swiftly," the minister said. Even fully vaccinated and recovered people, however, must continue to wear masks in some places and continue social distancing.
Almost 7.4 million people, or 8.8 percent of the people in Germany are now fully vaccinated. According to the Federal Ministry of Health, 26.2 million people have received at least a first vaccination, this is around 31.5 percent.
Spahn said in regard to the current Covid-19 situation, "The third wave seems to be broken." Infection numbers are declining, but are still at a high level. Now, he said, the downward trend must be sustained. "But that can't be done with easing up on the measures too hastily. Too many are opening up quite a bit right now with relatively high baseline incidence." Spahn warned against gambling away what has been achieved. There is reason to be confident, he said. "Too much impatience, on the other hand, will only help the virus.” He believes measures should be eased up for things happening outdoors, whether at restaurants or arts events, and these should be made even safer through testing.
Nationwide, the number of reported new infections per 100,000 inhabitants in seven days fell to 125.7, according to data released Friday by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). A week ago, it was 153.4. There were 18,485 new corona infections within one day. RKI President Lothar Wieler also urged caution: "The pandemic is virtually like a bulging balloon that we are holding together under the surface of the water. If we let go of the balloon now, it will bounce above the water surface. So we can't let go in an uncontrolled fashion."
But with further immunizations, restrictions could gradually be rolled back. "Vaccinate quickly, and open up again in a controlled manner," Wieler emphasized. Until it is possible to largely do away with all the restrictions in place, the proportion of people with immunity must be well above 80 percent, he said. Even then, he said, there will still be infections, but no more waves.
One million doses of the Astrazeneca vaccine should be delivered to doctors' offices next week, Spahn announced, and there are no longer designated priority groups for that vaccine. People can consult with their physician to decide when to do the second vaccine in an approved time slot between four to twelve weeks.
The minister emphasized, "The longer the interval between the first and second vaccination, the higher the effectiveness." According to studies, it is 50.4 percent for four to eight weeks, and up to 82.4 percent for twelve or more weeks. Many apparently did not want to be vaccinated with Astrazeneca now, because after twelve weeks they would not get the full vaccination protection until August, Spahn said. This comes with vacation season around the corner and new privileges for fully vaccinated people. Still, many are interested in getting a first vaccine because of the protection it offers.
Astrazeneca is particularly attractive for those "who would not be able to get a vaccination so quickly," Spahn said. But given limited supplies, he added, "It's not going to be possible to get everyone vaccinated within three days or five days or even two weeks." Among people over 60, about 70 percent are now vaccinated, depending on the state, he said. After very rare cases of blood clots became known, Astrazeneca was recommended for people aged 60 and older but younger people can also receive this vaccine.
North Rhine-Westphalia's Minister President Armin Laschet (CDU) called on fully vaccinated people to "handle their own good fortune responsibly". They should not be too exuberant, he said, in order to prevent frustration and envy on the part of those who cannot yet be vaccinated. The German Association of Cities does not see any major problems in implementing the new regulations although controls would be necessary. "But this is not a completely new situation," chief executive Helmut Dedy told Deutsche Presse-Agentur.
(Orig. text: dpa, Translation: Carol Kloeppel)